How doctors can protect their online reputation

A continuing series on physician online reputation.  Created in partnership with The Doctors Company as part of their social media resources for physicians. 

Once you establish online reputation, you have to protect it. I was once reading a newspaper article where an emergency physician in Rhode Island decided it was a good idea to post interesting cases that she had seen in emergency room on Facebook. Some of those cases were so unique that people who read her Facebook feed recognized the patient she was talking about, and the hospital she worked in, and subsequently she was sanctioned by the Rhode Island Board of Medicine and had her hospital privileges revoked.

You hear about stories like these all the time, about doctors and nurses getting fired because they’re posting inappropriate content online. That doesn’t help anybody’s online reputation. Protecting patient privacy is key to protecting an online reputation. HIPAA, the federal privacy law, needs to be the minimum standard, and we need to aim above that when we’re on the web. That may sound like common sense, but consider that 90 percent of state medical boards have received complaints from the public that doctors are unprofessional online.

We need to be as professional on the web as we are in the room, face to face with patients. Whatever we post online, consider it written in ink. Blog posts, for instance, once it gets indexed by a search engine like Google, can always be looked up in the archives.

Rather than reading through dozens of pages of social media guidelines, I have what’s called an elevator test. Whatever you post online needs to be appropriate if you say it aloud in a crowded hospital elevator. If you want to put it another way, if you’re online, just imagine that you’re mother is looking over your shoulder.

That’s a great first step to protecting your online reputation.

Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is on the editorial board of contributors, USA Today, and is founder and editor,, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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